Investing in the future of the East End with Audubon Kids’ Zone

Investing in the future of the East End with Audubon Kids’ Zone

From the local newspaper- The Gleaner
Posted: Aug. 28, 2015
 By Erin Schmitt

Every time South Heights Elementary students have been given the support they need, they have prospered, according to Principal Rob Carroll.

A former student, once intermittently homeless as a child, is now on the dean’s list at Murray State University. Another former student is getting her doctor of physical therapy at the University of Evansville.

These are two success stories, but Carroll and the community partners committed to improving the East End want to make it so all students are given the support they need to succeed as adults.

To fulfill that mission, several entities have joined together to build the Audubon Kids’ Zone. Located in the heart of the East End at the corner of Letcher and Powell streets, the facility will help provide support for kids from prenatal to career.

Carroll and his fellow community partners gave an update about the project during a Rotary Club of Henderson meeting on Thursday. An old bank was demolished in June to make way for the new building.

“I always wanted to be like in a movie and walk out in slow motion with the rest of the people that are going to change the world,” said Carroll of his fellow Kid Zone collaborators. “This is the first opportunity that I’ve really got to do that.”

The Raymond B. Preston Family Family Foundation donated a lead gift of $175,000 to start the project. Jennifer Preston told the Rotarians her late father-in-law came from humble beginnings and he was given support to succeed.

He wanted to give those opportunities back to the community. Investing in the Audubon Kid Zone is a wonderful way to do just that, Preston said.

The city of Henderson has committed close to $500,000 to improving the East End, said Assistant City Manager Buzzy Newman. This includes improving roads, gutters and installing sidewalks.

The city has also identified 15 dilapidated homes in the East End that the city commission has budgeted money to have razed. City officials have encouraged the police to develop a neighborhood watch program in the area and there are talks about assigning an assistant police chief to the East End.

“We all know the area out there is somewhat plagued with social issues that need to be addressed,” Newman said. “The only way to improve lives is to minimize the social impacts that these kids face every day.”

The city has a request for proposal out to build a splash pad in the East End park, at Helm and Letcher streets.

The water feature will cost an estimated $100,000 overall and will likely be ready in the winter or spring, said City Commissioner Robby Mills said.

“It is easily, I think, one of the best ideas going on in our community right now,” said city of Henderson Commissioner Robby Mills. “When you can think about how to bridge school and home and how we can reach out and majorly influence people’s home lives and their learning capabilities. That’s a major no-lose situation in my book.”

Hundreds turn out for Henderson’s City Serve Day

24 churches, 21 Community Partners, 4 cities, 29 projects, 1000+ volunteers…Click for A City Serve 2015 picture gallery

glcityserve_3605_18048073_ver1.0_900_6756126252353126400Picture by DANIEL R. PATMORE

Henderson resident Alex Ramirez could’ve chosen many activities to occupy his Saturday morning.

What the 9-year-old did was grab a shovel and help volunteers prepare the East End community gardens located at Washington and Holloway streets.

Ramirez told The Gleaner that he likes gardening because, “It gives poor people food to stay healthy.”

This project was just one of many taking place in the community on Saturday as part of Henderson’s annual City Serve Day.

Hundreds of volunteers, including several local churches and organizations, dispersed to locations such as Riverview School, South Heights and Jefferson elementary schools, Central Learning Center and various community parks to take on projects involving anything from landscaping to picking up trash.

Henderson’s City Serve Day was held in conjunction with another City Serve Day, which also took place Saturday in Evansville.

Melodie Schrader, who organized the City Serve project at the community gardens, said, “This is our third growing season.”

“The front beds are for the community. Today we’ll hoe them up and plant them,” she said. “Everybody in the community who wants to can pick (produce from the front beds) which is free to the community. The back beds are assigned to neighbors who live in the area. They plant the beds and maintain them. They can donate the food or use it to feed their families. I know one lady who lives around here, came and picked a fresh salad every day, which is really neat.”

“We have some wonderful volunteers,” Schrader said. “Alex, he’s one of our neighbors. He and his family have a box in the back. This is his third season with us. He had his own box the first season. When we started this, it was really the first green space that had been around for a while, and the kids came out in droves.”

Audra Pirtle, a master gardener and City Serve volunteer, also spent several hours of her day at the community gardens.

“Today we’re planting tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, some herbs and goji berries. I hope we can do more of this in our city,” she said.

“I think (a community garden) is good thing to be able to help our community, to teach people where our food comes from and afford everybody the opportunity to have fresh food on their table.”

Henderson resident Stacey Vaughn also pitched in at the gardens Saturday.

“I’m really excited,” she said. “I’m picking weeds because I don’t have a green thumb.”

“I’d love to learn to plant flowers and keep them alive,” she said.

Vaughn said the project has brought back a lot of great childhood memories of gardening with her parents and grandparents.

“City Serve Day is important for the community to come together, work together and realize the importance of each other,” she said. “I feel like people don’t talk to their neighbors anymore or communicate with each other. I think it’s good to get everybody together.”

Ryan Nunn, team leader for City Serve Day, said, “We want to make our city better, by serving our city. Aesthetically, we’re going to some under-resourced schools such as South Heights and Jefferson and doing some landscaping. That helps give the students some ownership of their campus, and then we can be a presence and support for our local schools.”

The team being led by Nunn not only picked up trash in the East End, but also took note of graffiti and “potentially dangerous properties.” The information will be passed on to city workers so the graffiti can be cleaned up and decisions can be made regarding abandoned and dangerous structures.

“We have a lot of teams out. It’s not just churches, it’s organizations too, coming together to engage our city. It’s a movement and we’re just trying to be part of it,” Nunn said.

“The message is, whether we’re churches or organizations, we want people to see that we’re doing what we can do to build a great city … we’re taking our city seriously.”

“What makes a great city is doing everything we can do to guarantee our kids success … If we’re doing our part to make sure the next generation can succeed, that’s part of building a great city,” Nunn said. “I think cleanups and work days play a role in that because we’re showing the kids that this type of thing matters.”


College Tours-Giving kids a vision for their future

For the last 9 years, South Heights Elementary has been taking kids on college tours. This year the 5th graders went to University of Kentucky, the 3rd graders went to Murray State, the 2nd graders went to Kentucky Weslyan and the 1st Graders went to University of Evansville. One of the 1st grade students during the Q an A with the admissions staff asked “how to you get to college”. Of course the response was hard work and a passion to succeed all the way though school.

Principal Rob Carroll shared that when the 5th graders visited the UK campus, they ran into a former South Heights student who was now attending UK. He shared that he was on one of these South Heights tours almost 9 years ago and today he is a full time college student. The 1st graders also got to meet and spend some time with a South Heights graduate that attends UE.

Busloads of kids on 4 different university campuses with TShirts that say “I’m going to College”….The 1199 vision!

2015 City Serve

CityJoin churches and volunteers as they serve the city of Henderson in parks, neighborhoods and schools to make a difference.


When: Saturday, May 9th Time: 8a to noon

Where: Meet at 8a at the new location of Audubon Kids Zone in Henderson’s East End at the corner of Letcher and Powell

Projects include(but not limited to):

Parks group-Henderson-South Heights School-Heath Farmer

-Jefferson School-Jon Tabor

– Central Learning Center-Matt McCraw

-City Parks-Robby Mills and Ryan Nunn

Bennett Memorial-Henderson-Community One housing projects-Lori Reed, Matt McCraw, Ryan Nunn

-Street to street trash pick up-Ryan Nunn

-Community Garden preparation-Melody Schrader

-Bennett Memorial-Wayne Bennett

Bring a friend, bring your church, bring a trash bag, bring a broom/rake or bring a project, but most importantly

Party and celebration to follow with food and fun at Bennett Memorial parking lot at 503 Letcher Street at noon.

For more information call Ryan Nunn at 279.860.1064 or Matt McCraw at 270.748.1201

Audubon Kids Zone


Plans in works for Audubon Kid Zone in the East End

Erin Schmitt…9:52 PM, Jan 20, 2015

Community development in Henderson is taking another strategic step forward.

Plans are in motion to create Audubon Kid Zone East End Hub — which will address neighborhood children’s needs from prenatal to career.

Representatives from various community entities have been meeting at Shoney’s Restaurant on Tuesdays for three years to discuss priorities in the East End. A group of them spoke at the Henderson County Board of Education meeting Tuesday night to announce their newest, and what they consider greatest, project.

“It is the idea of building and knowing every child in that neighborhood that’s under-rescourced,” said Community One Director Lori Reed.

She added that it’s also about building and knowing institutions that serve children and being able to identify gaps. The Audubon Kid Zone intends to build collaborations where the gaps are so children are better served.

The project is in program design mode, but Reed said they have received a six-figure contribution from a private donor to get started. The city of Henderson has also pledged support with money and human resources for the building project and beyond, said Henderson City Commissioner Robbie Mills.

“It’s a good idea to build parks, it’s a good idea to put curbs and gutters in and to help people improve their housing, but when you start helping children with their future, that’s where we’re doing big work,” Mills said.

The next step in community development is strategically linking what is being done with affordable housing with what educators are doing in schools, Reed said. The Audubon Kid Zone East End Hub would serve students from South Heights, Jefferson and possibly East Heights.

“We feel like we’ve done a lot of good work, but we still aren’t getting the levels of success from our kids from conception to career,” said South Heights Principal Rob Carroll. “We realize you can’t just do it as a school.”

The group plans to come back before the board when it has more concrete plans, said Buzzy Newman, assistant manager for the city of Henderson. The group will also consider expanding into other neighborhoods.


Kids Zone-East End


In late 2011, a group of leaders in Henderson began the journey of determining the needs and opportunities in what was considered a declining neighborhood called the “East End”. While exact boundaries are debated, it was generally defined by the group as 2nd Street to Madison to Green Street to Atkinson.


Engage-Slide-16x9The group was started by One Life Church with the idea of focusing on development and improving the quality of life in a specific geographic area, but soon included people from various organizations and backgrounds and was given the name “Engage”. The group is not a legal entity and prefers to say that “Engage” is a verb not a noun. For 3 years the Engage team has met almost every week on Tuesday mornings at Shoneys in Henderson to discuss and move ideas forward in the East End development.


EngageOne of the dominating values of Engage has been to listen to the neighborhood residents and to work towards collaborative solutions. In that context, there have been multiple listening sessions connected to the Engage journey….

  1. USI managed and summarized door-to-door surveys in October and November of 2011.
  2. Community Wide visioning sessions were facilitated by Sue Ellspermann from USI at South Heights Elementary in December of 2011 and in February of 2012 identifying and working towards 6 priorities in East End.
  3. Based on results from East End research and needs, the Sustainable Evansville Area Coalition(SEAC) included the East End in their federally funded comprehensive plan called “A Regional Plan for Sustainable Development”.
  4. Additional Neighborhood discussions happened at Bennett Memorial on Letcher Street in October of 2013 and results were presented to the Henderson Chamber of Commerce in December of 2013 by Bernardin Lochmueller with an overview of an East End revitalization plan.


While ideas from the neighborhood and residents have evolved from the assimilation of the various discussions and include a variety of issues, many of the conclusions are connected to kids.

Some examples include:

-Drug free East End

-Mentoring programs for kids and adults needing career and family support

-Closer relationships between law enforcement and neighbors and children

-Support for South Heights with facilities and resources

-WIFI through out the neighborhood

-Enhancement of the Arts in East End

-Safe and productive environments for kids after school

Kids Zone

405401_457706637582701_1225390405_nA significant contributor to the discussion in East End has been the Principal of South Heights Elementary-Rob Carroll. Rob has created a culture at South Heights that seems to overcome many of the socioeconomic issues that his kids face as part of a 90% free lunch demographic, but he also knows that these kids need every resource possible to succeed in Middle School, High School and beyond.

Inspired by the Harlem Children’s Zone in New York City, Rob and the Engage team have discussed what the idea looks like in the East End of Henderson. In October of 2013, a team of 15 from Engage Henderson went and visited the HCZ headquarters and kid’s facilities in New York.

pipelineTo summarize the essence of Harlem Children’s Zone( here is an excerpt from their business plan called “Whatever it Takes”….

 “The Harlem Children’s Zone has created a new paradigm for fighting poverty, intended to overcome the limits of traditional approaches. Our model focuses primarily and intensively on the social, health, and educational development of children. To help support that development, we also provide wrap-around programs that improve the children’s family and neighborhood environments.

The theory of change underlying the HCZ model requires the coordinated application of its five core principles. To create change it is necessary to: 

• Serve an entire neighborhood comprehensively and at scale. Engaging an entire neighborhood helps to achieve three goals: it reaches children in numbers significant enough to affect the culture of a community; it transforms the physical and social environments that impact the children’s development; and it creates programs at a scale large enough to meet the local need.

• Create a pipeline of support. Develop excellent, accessible programs and schools and link them to one another so that they provide uninterrupted support for children’s healthy growth, starting with pre-natal programs for parents and finishing when young people graduate from college. Surround the pipeline with additional programs that support families and the larger community. 

• Build community among residents, institutions, and stakeholders, who help to create the environment necessary for children’s healthy development. 

• Evaluate program outcomes and create a feedback loop that cycles data back to management for use in improving and refining program offerings.

• Cultivate a culture of success rooted in passion, accountability, leadership, and teamwork.

Harlem Children’s Zone began with a focus on 24 blocks representing 3000 kids and now represents 100 blocks and 10,000 kids. Programs include Baby College for new moms, mentoring programs, libraries, health programs, reading programs, fitness, after schools programs, career and college prep and the list goes on. But the most important element is tracking and measurement. Kids are tracked to not get lost in the system and results are measured for effectiveness at every level.

What’s Next

Using similar values and metrics to the Harlem Children’s Zone, it has been the desire of South Heights, City Leaders, Community leaders and the Engage team to create an entity focused on East End kids. There are about 1800 kids under the age of 18 in the East End area. And while there are a lot of differences between East End and Harlem, the common ground is the need to create a pipeline of services to support their success.

IMG_1385The idea would be to create a new organization dedicated to a Kids Zone in Henderson’s East End. The organization would include representation from business and education leaders including some primary funding partners. The ideal would be to immediately purchase or build a facility in the East End on the Letcher street corridor where the Kids Zone idea could have a presence in the neighborhood and the kids could “own it”. It would start with some full time staff with the capacity to work directly with Rob Carroll and South Heights to expand successful programs that are currently limited by the facilities and resources of schools.

The idea of East End Kids Zone is collaborative support for an under resourced neighborhood. Working with the local schools, neighbors and existing non-profits…East End Kids Zone would be an entity committed to the success of kids from birth to college and ultimately committed to stopping the cycle of poverty in an important area of the Henderson Community.

Stay tuned. We are anticipating major developments yet in 2014.